Si Tian Guan Chapter 184

Chapter 184 – Shimao County

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The next morning, as they mounted their horses again, Ding Lekang felt a bit weak in the legs. He barely managed to put his foot into the stirrup, looking at the other two who still appeared lively. He couldn’t help but sigh, youth was truly wonderful.

Before the sun set, they found lodgings in the next town.

After several days of travel and a night of intense physical labor, even though he was someone skilled in martial arts, he felt tired.

When he sat down at the table, he was already short of breath. But when he saw the person across from him, Liu Zhongming, laughing to himself with a spring-like appearance, occasionally bringing his sleeves up to his nose to smell them, he couldn’t help but ask.

“What is Zhongming thinking? Why so happy?”

“Thinking of the beauty from yesterday in my arms, sleeping well all night, and still the fragrance lingers on my sleeves until now,” Liu Zhongming licked his lips as if savoring the memory, “I didn’t expect that even in a remote place like this, there could be such a stunning beauty.”

Ding Lekang quickly stole a glance at Qu Chenzhou beside him. Seeing that the latter was deeply engrossed in questioning the innkeeper, he didn’t know if he was intentionally ignoring them or if he truly hadn’t heard.

He also didn’t know if this Shizi’s words were genuinely about encountering a truly beautiful person and being unforgettable or if they were specifically meant to provoke.

Anyway, the person who had been sent to his room was only average.

A moment later, as expected, Qu Chenzhou’s gaze turned back, and his words carried a hint of sarcasm, “It’s good to be happy. Zhongming seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself. I just wonder if the person in his arms is equally satisfied?”

Seeing Liu Zhongming’s face darken, Ding Lekang couldn’t help but cough, thinking that Qu Sitian’s words were really sharp; he was blatantly implying that the Shizi was inadequate.

“Well, of course, definitely,” he tried to smooth things over on both sides.

Liu Zhongming took a sip of tea and chuckled. “What about Chenzhou? Did the person last night attend to you for a good night’s sleep?”

Qu Chenzhou pursed his lips, unable to say that one word “yes.” After struggling for a while, he finally managed to say, “No.”

“No is perfect,” Liu Zhongming immediately went along with it. “This place looks good too. How about giving it a try tonight?”

Ding Lekang hadn’t quite grasped the meaning behind this, and he was about to hint to Liu Zhongming not to continue with the teasing, when he saw Qu Chenzhou reach into his money pouch.

“Waiter, in this town, are there any young male pros…”

“Chenzhou!” His scalp tightened, and he quickly interrupted. Although young men had their urges, he couldn’t openly stop them, especially when these two were quarreling like roosters. So, he could only tactfully advise, “We still have a long journey ahead; let’s be economical with our spending.”

“Big Brother Ding is right,” Qu Chenzhou readily went along with it. He put the gold ingot he had taken out back and replaced it with a silver ingot on the table. “Waiter, please find a young male prostitute for me and have him sent to my room.”

Liu Zhongming immediately chimed in, “Find one for me as well.”

Ding Lekang suppressed the old blood that had risen to his throat and braved it. “Give… give me one as well.”

This time, Liu Zhongming took the window route. When he jumped in, he saw that Qu Chenzhou had already finished bathing and was calmly seated at the table, waiting for him.

He couldn’t help but find this both amusing and bittersweet.

He had long known that the stubbornness and obstinacy of the little fox wouldn’t soften easily, and the shell formed over a decade of solitude wouldn’t melt so quickly.

But he had enough patience.

Even if no one left the door open for him, even if he wasn’t allowed into this room, he had enough patience.

Not to mention the present moment.

Last night, they hadn’t achieved anything.

When they shared a light kiss by the tub, Qu Chenzhou had struggled slightly. After Liu Zhongming fished him out of the water, he hummed a tune they were both familiar with, and the little fox curled up in his arms without moving.


He sat on the bed, holding the person in his arms. When he heard the familiar call, he responded out of habit, “I’m here.”

The person in his arms remained silent for a long time before finally saying, “I wasn’t calling you.”

“I know,” he pulled the blanket over to cover them both. “Since he’s not here, I’m answering for him.”

Qu Chenzhou tilted his head, lost in thought, and then said, “I hate you.”

“I know,” Liu Zhongming patiently wiped his damp hair. “You said that love and hatred only exist for those who can’t forget.”

“The one I can’t forget isn’t you.” As if afraid his words weren’t clear enough, Qu Chenzhou bit his lower lip and said word by word, “You’re not him.”

“I know, he entrusted me with taking care of you.”

Qu Chenzhou’s eyes were hidden in shadows, and the hand he had clenched behind Liu Zhongming trembled slightly. Finally, he quieted down, his breathing becoming calm and steady.

For the past half year, it was the first time Liu Zhongming felt the miasma around them slowly dissipating, and everything was becoming bright again.

It was his fault, he thought. Not only did he fail to teach Qu Chenzhou to cherish himself, but there was also something they both hadn’t learned before.

Between the two of them, at least one person should know how to be open and honest with their loved one.

“Thank you for coming so late, Shizi,” Qu Chenzhou had let his long hair down and had an air of being ready to kick someone out to sleep: “When the waiter mentioned Shimao County yesterday, did Your Highness discover anything?”

Liu Zhongming had anticipated that he would ask, so he had a map with him, which he spread out on the table.

“Chenzhou, do you remember what I told you before? About a family disappearing before and after the incident when my brother was murdered, forty miles south of Dingling Hill?”

Qu Chenzhou naturally remembered. At that time, they had speculated that this family was most likely the hidden and anonymous Zhou Huaishan.

“That family is within the jurisdiction of Shimao County.”

Liu Zhongming marked a triangle on the map.

“Not only that, but I and Ling He have also sorted out all the murder cases related to the strange trees, and they all happened within the area connecting Shimao County, Yunan County, and Dingling Hill.”

Qu Chenzhou furrowed his brows. “Could it really be a man-eating tree? I thought it was just a rumor.”

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire; there must be a cause behind it. And to be frank with you, some of the people I sent out haven’t returned because of this. So, I believe it.”

“But even if there’s a man-eating tree, how can it be this huge?”

Qu Chenzhou pointed at the enclosed area.

“Tree roots alone can stretch for forty miles. How tall could the tree be? Such a giant tree, how could it not attract attention? However, on the way here, I haven’t heard anyone mention seeing such a massive tree.”

Both of them fell silent, looking at the map.

On this trip, if they couldn’t come up with something substantial, the Emperor wouldn’t just give up; he would thoroughly investigate, and it might be possible to trace back to what Liu Zhongming had done in secret. 

What’s more, Qu Chenzhou had explicitly said that “evil demons are at work,” planting a seed of doubt in the Emperor’s mind. If they returned empty-handed, his fate wouldn’t be better than that of his predecessors.

The day they returned to the capital would be the day he’d be executed.

“Have you discovered anything useful during these past few days?”

Liu Zhongming leaned against the window, listening to the sounds outside. The inn wasn’t large, and the sound insulation was average; he could hear from the room around the corner a sweet voice trying to restrain its moans.

“Not yet.” Wandering aimlessly on the street, Qu Chenzhou was getting tired, unable to interact with everyone he passed: “Shizi hasn’t received a divination either, maybe the target is still far away.”

Though he said that, no one really knew what this “target” was.

Liu Zhongming made a decision: “Then let’s go to Dingling Hill first. Maybe when we get there, we’ll find some clues.”

Currently, besides this goal, they didn’t have a better destination. Although they would eventually go to Shimao County, having Ding Lekang with them now meant that he wouldn’t just stand by if Liu Zhongming stirred up any trouble.

“What do you plan to do with Ding Lekang?” He asked earnestly: “You don’t mean to just let him do it to death, do you?”

Qu Chenzhou struggled for a while before suppressing the urge to argue with him.

“His target isn’t me, so it’s not about what I plan, but rather about what Shizi plans.”

Liu Zhongming also knew that deep down.

“After finally getting this opportunity and bringing Ding Lekang out, we can’t let him return alive. The key is when to make a move.”

“He’s important to Huai Wang. Mu Jingyan will definitely have people following us. If we act too early, it won’t end well for me either. It’s best to handle this matter and then strike as we get closer to the capital.”

“What about your men, Shizi?” Qu Chenzhou asked. “Mu Jingyan might not have the patience to wait until then.”

“They are on their way. But let me give you a piece of information; both sides are in the dark, and it’s hard to tell who’s who. Plus, it’s manageable when we’re in a crowd, but if we’re in open terrain, we can’t stay too close. We need to stay vigilant.”

A short sword wrapped in leather was placed on the table.

Qu Chenzhou silently picked it up. It was lightweight, and when he unsheathed the blade, it left a scratch on the finely silver-inlaid fabric.

His first weapon training with Liu Zhongming had been with a short sword. But due to his status, carrying a short sword was inconvenient. It wasn’t until they had forged a short sword that could be folded and concealed within a slave collar that he switched from throwing knives.

The sword felt cold to the touch, as though it was following his veins, yet it set his heart boiling.


Liu Zhongming stopped his words: “Just keep it. I can put it on credit, and you can give me the money when we return to the capital.”

Qu Chenzhou didn’t say anything else, he put away the short sword, got up, and lowered half of the curtains.

“Shizi, you should go back. We’ll have a long journey tomorrow.”

But Shizi didn’t leave, not only did he refuse to leave, but he also attempted to sit on the bed.

Qu Chenzhou extended his arms to protect the entire edge of the bed: “Show some restraint, Shizi!”

Liu Zhongming could only step back a few paces and drag two chairs over, placing them together.

“Those two men are arranged in my room. They’re having a great time right now, but if I go back, things might become awkward. Don’t chase me away. Can’t I stay on the chair?”

The other half of the curtains was drawn, and the figure on the bed was no longer visible. Fortunately, nobody pushed him away either.

He went and extinguished the candle, lying down on the chair with his face up. The surface was firm and cool, but it was much more comfortable than the bed in the other courtyard.

Being this close to someone again, he asked for nothing more.

However, the two chairs were a bit short, and his feet were still touching the ground. Just as he was about to bring another chair over, he heard someone on the bed shift positions.

Words were squeezed out from between the curtain folds, barely audible.

“…Come over.”

No need for a second command. Liu Zhongming deftly lifted the curtain and gently slid onto the bed, where a spot had already been cleared.

Qu Chenzhou kept his back turned to him until he laid down.

In the narrow space for just the two of them, a faintly sweet aroma began to fill the air.

Liu Zhongming slowly reached out his hand, tentatively tracing it on the slender waist. He cautiously considered whether his hand would be kicked off the bed or he’d receive a slap if he moved any lower.

“Why did you ask me to come along, Shizi?”

He wasn’t surprised; he had already guessed that Qu Chenzhou wouldn’t be able to resist asking.

“Chenzhou, I can also get news from the palace. Do you know what’s happened after the Empress Dowager spoke with you?”

Without receiving an answer, he continued on his own.

“Of course, you’re responsible for the Valiant camp, so you must know. The Emperor has someone keeping an eye on the Empress Dowager, preventing her from moving around the palace or contacting you.”

“Now, due to ‘Intoxicated Bone Fragrance,’ Noble Consort Yu has been demoted, and Mu Jingyan is under house arrest. With Ning Wang in the spotlight, the Empress Dowager is undoubtedly unable to hold back and will want to avenge her son.”

“If you were still in the palace, no matter what the Empress Dowager did…”

“That’s enough!” Qu Chenzhou suddenly interjected with a rebuke. “Liu Zhongming, my affairs are none of your concern!”

Liu Zhongming remained silent for a moment and then quietly pleaded, “Chenzhou, I’m willing to listen to you, but can’t you avoid taking risks every time? Even if you don’t care about others, you should at least think about…”

He paused for a moment, cleverly changing his wording: “Think about Aunt and them…”

“If you really listen to me,” Qu Chenzhou coldly interrupted, “then listen clearly: we have nothing to do with each other. Whether I live or die, it has nothing to do with you.”

Liu Zhongming had no response; he could only retract the hand hanging by his waist.

The curtain covered the last sliver of moonlight, merging shadows and darkness into one. He feared that he might sleep past the hour, and he remained in a half-dream, half-awake state, trying to stay slightly awake.

“Your Majesty,” someone called him softly.

He sprung up suddenly, and the familiar voice was followed by familiar heart palpitations.

After all this time, he had become accustomed to such dreams, accustomed to forcing himself not to wake up so that he could at least see that person again, at least open his eyes and see clearly, to understand the suffering Qu Chenzhou had endured for his sake.

“Where’s Chenzhou?” he asked as if he was bewitched. “Where’s Chenzhou?”

“Qu Chenzhou? You killed him with your own hands. His body…” Three Blessings’s eerie laughter responded, “His body is still hanging in the bustling market.”

Although he had heard these words countless times, they still cut through him like a dagger. He curled up slowly and sobbed in agony.

“No! Chenzhou… Chen…”

Several loud cracks suddenly sounded near his ear. Even when he opened his eyes, his mind was still muddled, and he didn’t react immediately.

After so many nightmares, it was the first time someone had used such a method to wake him up.

“In the middle of the night, why are you crying!” Qu Chenzhou reproachfully laid back down, facing away from him. “If you’re not going to sleep, then go back. Don’t disturb others’ sweet dreams.”

Liu Zhongming touched his cheek, the searing pain spreading to his ears. It was so real, it couldn’t be more real.

Suddenly, he felt elated. Ignoring everything else, he propped himself up and lunged onto the pillow beside him, firmly embracing the person in his arms.

“Chenzhou, was it you who just hit me? Hit me again! Hit me a few more times!”

Qu Chenzhou struggled a few times but couldn’t free himself. Not daring to make too much noise, he snapped, “Are you insane?”

“Hit me a couple more times, please…” Liu Zhongming hummed and softly pleaded.

A gentle hand landed on his face decisively, but the second blow didn’t follow.

Before he could flip over irritably, he caught the slim wrist and placed a soft kiss on it.

“Thank you.”

The next day’s departure was early. Ding Lekang, having lost the vigor he had when leaving the capital, only noticed that Liu Zhongming looked a bit different from the day before once they had walked a distance.

“Zhongming, your…” Unable to suppress his curiosity, he gestured and asked, “Your face…”

Liu Zhongming touched his still-red face with fading marks and grinned.

“I tried something different last night.”

Author’s note: Ding: I genuinely never thought of it; turns out the Shizi is an M.

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